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Kia Australia mounts hybrid model push

Hy hope: Kia Motors Australia has identified small SUVs such as the new Seltos as prime candidates for hybrid powertrains, along with passenger model lines.

Lack of EV supply for Australian market forces Kia to look at hybrid options

30 Jan 2020

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) has revised its strategy of offering only full-electric powertrains as an alternative to combustion engines, with hybrid variants of key models now under consideration due to overseas markets such as Europe given priority for the limited global supply of EVs.


KMAu had planned to enter the EV segment early this year with the e-Niro and Soul EV models launching in conjunction with its sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis tournament, but a lack of supply for this market has pushed these opening salvos back to later this year or into 2021.


Speaking to GoAuto in Melbourne last weekend, KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith said he would continue to argue the case for Australia to receive EVs at the earliest available opportunity, but revealed that hybrids were now on the agenda across its passenger car and SUV model lines.


“Our thinking has always been moving from internal combustion engines, straight into EVs,” he said.


“Supply has upset that strategy, so we are looking at some hybrids and we’ll see what happens.


“Everything that’s available we’ve looked at. But for example, if we can’t get EVs for, say, three years, we would certainly look at our hybrid options to meet our requirements and to tell a story.


“We’d look at the situation with certainly our small SUVs and our passenger cars.”


Models such as the Sportage, Seltos and incoming Stonic are prime candidates to get hybrid tech, and while Mr Meredith was less upbeat about recently confirmed hybrid versions of the incoming fourth-generation Sorento – including a plug-in variant – GoAuto understands that the company would look to build a case for adding the low-emissions electrified powertrains to the line-up of the new large SUV as soon as they become available.


On the EV front, Mr Meredith was enthusiastic about reports out of Europe that the Picanto city car will become an all-electric model, saying “we’d look very, very favourably at that”, and welcomed the €100 million ($A163m) deal Kia and Hyundai have just signed with UK-based EV start-up Arrival to build small and medium-sized electric vans and other products targeted at logistics, ride-hailing and shuttle service companies.


Indeed, Mr Meredith is keen to add any virtually other EV variant that becomes available, including the first of a full range of new dedicated EVs – which will swell to 11 by 2026 – which is due for release overseas next year under the ‘Plan S’ global strategy.


“We’re pushing very hard to get supply. We’re putting things in place. But, honestly, when there’s a slowdown in western Europe, then I think supply will loosen up for us,” he said.


Under Plan S, Kia Motors is expecting 25 per cent of its total global sales to be electrified vehicles – a goal that each of its markets will be expected to aspire towards, although achieving such a goal in Australia will be tough when supplies to this market are so limited.


“It’s hard to emulate 25 per cent when you’re not getting 25 per cent supply!” Mr Meredith said.


“We’d try hard, but you would have to (consider) the specific market demands of Australia.”


Mr Meredith said Kia’s global electrified vehicle production and supply was directed to markets such as Europe that have legislation in place to ensure that there is a strong take-up.


However, KMAu general manager of product planning Roland Rivero said the ambitious goals outlined by the parent company under Plan S – which also include a 6.6 per cent share of the global EV market by 2026, not including China – gave the Australian team “some optimism that they are moving towards increasing capacity”.


Mr Meredith added that limiting factors for EV take-up in Australia continued to include a lack of legislation – including the absence of mandatory CO2 regulations – and the lack of recharging infrastructure which discourages long-distance travel.


He said he does not favour taxpayer-funded incentives for buyers of electrified vehicles, saying that “if the investment is there, the R&D is there, the will is there, the legislation is there and the infrastructure is there, that will look after itself”.


And like most other leading mainstream car companies, KMAu is keen to get its hands on as many electrified vehicles as it can in order to satisfy strong demand from government, fleet and other business purchasers who are not price sensitive like private buyers and are more concerned about reducing their average corporate emissions and projecting a clean image with their vehicles.

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